It’s not that I had anything special planned for this summer. I guess like most years, I wanted nice, big, comfortable events: restful vacations for people I love. Good news. Days filled with small, manageable adventures. Long walks and heat waves and thunderstorms.
Instead, it was a pretty cold summer.
Sometimes, when things are difficult or I am in a funk, I try to shock myself out of a haze with activity. I clean out my closet. I paint something. I organize some cabinets. I find some distraction in driving to every Target in existence, buying up every roll of the shelf liners, as though lining my shelves in the right color mats will make the difference between chaos and order in more than just my cabinets.
Sometimes, this works.
This summer, finding momentum was harder. Instead, I have moved in uneven steps, not able to hit my usual frenzied getting-things-done mode.
On a day I received terrible news, news I had to relay to each of my family members, one after the other, changing tactics each time and adding to my team of People who Know Now and Who Must Tell Now, I spent part of the afternoon on Craigslist, shopping for a bistro table for my porch. My brain needed somewhere to go. You reach for the dullest distractions on the worst days.
I found a table. It was ridiculously low-priced. I contacted the seller. She didn’t respond. I spent the next few weeks distracting myself by shopping for bistro sets: Target (too expensive), Walmart (surprisingly cute), Ikea (their various tables were either out of my price range or not what I wanted). World Market had a few adorable and vintage-looking sets (I am a sucker for anything that looks like it belongs on Doris Day’s back patio), but they were all about 20% larger than would allow me to open my door.
I trolled Craigslist some more. The table, the original one, appeared again. The price had gone up. Someone had tipped this lady off. That was fine with me. The table wasn’t exactly what I had in my head, it was more ice cream parlor than Doris Day, but the price was still good, it would fit on my porch, and it needed a paint job and I needed a project.
The woman responded to my email with “Okay! There is a lot of interest in this table! Whoever shows up first gets it!” She did not leave any contact information. This made if very difficult for me to show up first. I made room in my car, got cash, googled her information. When she finally wrote back with her home address, I had already found her house on the internet. After a few trips back and forth, I had the table. As we loaded it into my trunk, she saw the Moody Bible Institute sticker on my Mini. This led, though I don’t remember how, to a conversation about people we have lost and our hope in Heaven. All of my annoyance at her evaporated. Everybody’s hurting, even people who don’t respond to emails quickly.
My enthusiasm fizzled out. The table sat on my porch unpainted for months. I told myself that this was because I was too busy, but really, it was because I couldn’t bring myself to do anything useful, much less a vanity project. Instead, I buried myself under a blanket of fantasy: I’d watch or read anything with magic, anything where good beat evil and the laws of physics would warp to fix things beyond fixing.
And then summer was nearly over. I couldn’t face that poor beige table all winter. I couldn’t put it away when I promised it that it would be new again. So I bought some paint: Rustoleum Painter’s Touch 2X Ultra Cover Paint and Primer in Sun Yellow. The name had a comforting lot of promises in it. It took a few weeks, but I finally made myself clear part of a Saturday to start washing the table down.
Repainting a Bistro Set
1) Spray the table and chairs down with the “jet” setting on your garden hose nozzle. Pretend it’s a pressure washer. Rinse all spider webs and spider eggs and grime off the table. Regret not doing this on a hotter day. Regret wearing jeans. Regret a lot of things.
2) Scrub the table and chairs with a wire brush. This will rough up the surface to make it hold paint better, knock off any loose chips of paint, and show you all the spider eggs you missed. Consider sanding the table when you see that the chipped old paint probably won’t look smooth under the new paint. Resist the urge, because this is an exercise in completing something, and not necessarily in completing something well.
3) Refuse to think about anything. Refuse to have any emotions which aren’t directly related to your audiobook, and be wary of those. When a certain young wizard is given a photo of his parents laughing and waving, scrub harder. It is probably okay if you are a little bit angry.
4) Think about how DIY bloggers usually use something called a “liquid deglazer” at this point. Think about how that sounds sort of sci-fi and would probably be interesting to try, but it would mean spending more money and taking another trip to the hardware store. Use vinegar instead. You can use vinegar for everything. Think about pickles, briefly.
5) Wash the dust from the wire brush away with a rag and a bucket full of vinegar and water and let everything dry. It will dry faster than you think and you do not have time to go inside and do something other than work on this table and chairs, don’t even consider it, okay, fine, go have some chips and salsa and look at the Internet. Just make sure you come back out again. You were doing so well.
6) Prepare your painting area by taping up some sheets of plastic in your garage. Put your phone in a sandwich baggie, because you can still use the touchscreen through the plastic, but now it won’t be covered in a haze of overspray paint like last time. Congratulate yourself on your cleverness. It is nice to solve problems.
7) Paint. Move the paint can in smooth, even strokes, like you read on that blog. Concentrate very hard on painting, covering the rusty beige with yellow. Regret not sanding. Sand a little. You will use more paint than you expect. The promises on the paint can do not mean that you don’t have to do a few coats. Buy more paint. The whole process will take you a few days longer than you thought.
8) When the paint has had a few days to dry, carry the table and chairs up to your porch. Put everything back together. If you do not feel the same level of satisfaction which you normally do upon completing a project, that is okay.
Sometimes, you just have to take tiny, tentative steps forward. Sometimes you have hope not because you want to, but because you must. Sometimes you have to make a sunny place to sit.